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Thursday, April 19, 2007

From Web 2.0 To E-Discovery 2.0

If there’s one idea that has captivated Silicon Valley in the past 3 years, it is Web 2.0. People may debate its meaning and definition, but the gist of it is clear: a handful of powerful forces have coalesced to make the internet of today fundamentally different to what it was 5 years ago. Opinions vary on which of these forces is most important: the growth of broadband to the home; open source, ajax and other technologies which lower the cost and increase the functionality of web applications; the power of community in a world where more people are on the web. Whichever you choose, there is no doubt that collectively these forces have had a huge impact, powering the growth of now-household names such as Google, MySpace, and YouTube.

I believe that an analogous set of changes is transforming the way companies do e-discovery. Ten years ago, e-discovery was an after-thought – a necessary, but incidental, part of corporate legal expenses. Today, it is a huge line-item in the legal budget, a headache for corporate IT, and the foundation upon which many cases are built.

E-discovery 1.0 was an ad hoc activity; e-discovery 2.0 is a core business process. E-discovery 1.0 was barely noticed; e-discovery 2.0 is driving the news cycle, affecting everyone from Intel to the US Attorney General. In the legal world, e-discovery 2.0 has had every bit as big an impact on enterprises as Web 2.0 has had on the dating lives of teenagers.

What happened? A series of fundamental changes have made e-discovery far more important, expensive, and complex than it was in the 1990s. Chief among these changes are:

1. Email, Not Voicemail: In the past 10 years, companies have switched from voicemail to email as the primary way they communicate. This has created a written record where none previously existed. Just as oral histories eventually die out, every voicemail eventually gets deleted; but emails and the written word live forever. Whatsmore, the convenience and time-efficiency of email makes it addictive, with the result that every meaningful conversation is captured, time-stamped, and attached to a person’s name. Given that many legal cases turn on intent, and proving who knew what when, this makes email a virtual treasure trove for anyone building a case.

2. Electronic Files, Not Paper: Electronic files are fundamentally different to paper documents: they reproduce like rabbits and are far cheaper to store. For example, one laptop is the equivalent of 2,000 boxes of paper; one server corresponds to 8,000-40,000 boxes of paper. The number of servers and laptops holding vast quantities of email is only increasing as the cost of hard disk storage falls, down from $2.04 per GB in 2004 to $0.77 per GB in 2006. Net net: going electronic has vastly increased the amount of data that must be analyzed as part of the discovery process.

3. Sooner, Not Later: Recent changes to the FRCP guidelines have moved e-discovery up in the process, forcing companies to have an e-discovery plan within 99 days of a suit being filed. Since disputes rarely settle that quickly, that means enterprises must now incur the expense of e-discovery on every case, not just the small number that actually make it to court. The result is a massive increase in e-discovery expenses and workload.

Anecdotal evidence of e-discovery 2.0 is everywhere. A few years back, no one would have guessed that every major analyst firm would have people dedicated to tracking e-discovery. Nor would you have expected to find a litigation support manager at every major enterprise.

So what exactly is e-discovery 2.0? Well, I will talk about that in a future post.


Rob Robinson said...

Nice Post - Appreciate the time you took to articulate your thoughts.

Rob Robinson

Jerry Bui said...

I may be wrong, but you could be the very first to coin the phrase "E-Discovery 2.0".

Jerry Bui